Emo walleye tourney title captured in record fashion

More than 24 hours after his prize catch was released back into the Rainy River, Steve Ballan still was trying to find the words to describe exactly how he felt as he jubilantly displayed the 10-pound walleye in front of the hundreds on hand for the final weigh-in of the 2005 Emo Walleye Classic.
“It just doesn’t get any better than that,” Ballan beamed Sunday evening. “It’s awesome catching a personal record, but when you catch it in a tournament and it gets you that big a cheque. . . .”
He trailed off, but it didn’t really matter. In this case, the numbers did the talking.
Numbers like 10.02 pounds, the official weight of the monster 30-inch marble eye Ballan reeled in early Saturday—the biggest fish ever caught in EWC competition.
Like 15.06 and 25.82 pounds—new tournament records established by Ballan and partner Doug McBride for heaviest basket and highest two-day total, respectively.
And numbers like $12,800—the tidy sum the longtime friends and fishing partners split for their efforts.
That total included the $11,000 first-place prize, plus three $600 pots for biggest basket on Day One, biggest basket on Day Two, and biggest fish on Day Two.
Aboard the last boat pulled into the Emo-La Vallee Community Centre for Saturday’s weigh-in, Ballan and McBride put a perfect exclamation point on what, to that point at least, had been a fairly anti-climactic weekend.
There was no need for fireworks as Ballan—with McBride peering over his shoulder—pulled the trophy fish out of the live well because the smile on his face was plenty bright enough to light up the dark arena.
“It was pretty exciting,” recalled Ballan, who was shaking as he posed for a photo with the fish, his partner, and the EWC championship hardware. “My stomach was just flipping on the ride from the back of the arena inside.”
“It was a real thrill,” added McBride. “You get the adrenaline flowing.”
By virtue of their 10.76-pound basket on the first day Friday, the Fort Frances duo were the first anglers to leave the launching area Saturday morning—and knew exactly where they were heading.
Having pre-fished from Fort Frances all the way west to Barwick, it was a spot only a couple of miles downstream from the dam here that Ballan and McBride eventually chose to set up shop for the duration of the derby.
“We just decided to go back to the same spot and fish it a little harder,” Ballan said of the decision to return to same location, where eventual runners-up Dale LaBelle and Wayne Angus (who weighed in 10.28 pounds on Friday) and the team of Jody Shypit and Gary Noga also fished both Friday and Saturday.
About 10 other boats also trolled the area on Day Two.
“We knew they’d be right back there again,” McBride said of the challengers. “We knew it was going to be a crap shoot. We knew it was going to come down to who caught the big fish.
“We were very fortunate to get the biggest fish,” he noted.
When the pair did get the monster walleye on board, shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday, keeping their catch—and their excitement—concealed presented a real challenge.
“Nobody was really close enough when we caught it to actually see how big it was,” said Ballan, who also tasted victory four years ago at the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship. “[But] you just wanna tell somebody.”
“We downplayed it all day,” McBride added. “We tried to keep it hidden. It was hard to do, but it was fun at the same time.”
After all, Ballan and McBride were pretty confident that fish would cement their spot atop the leaderboard.
“I said immediately to Steve, ‘That’s the one that’s gonna do it, that’s the one to win it,’” McBride said. “We were pretty excited.”
LaBelle, who saw the champs reel in the winning walleye but admitted he didn’t know just how big it was, said it takes a combination of luck and skill to haul in a fish like the one Ballan and McBride landed.
“You’ve got to get the bite, that’s the luck part,” he said. “And you’ve got to be skilled enough to get it in the boat.”
LaBelle, who also placed among the top EWC finishers in both 2002 and 2003, added any of the dozen or so teams fishing near Ballan and McBride on the final day had a shot at landing the 10-pound lunker.
“Any boat in that area could have got that fish,” he said. “That’s tournament fishing. That’s what makes it interesting.”
While Ballan and McBride’s fish was the largest ever caught in the Emo tournament, Doug Moen and Colin Wood reeled up a 10.7-pound lunker in the Rainy River Walleye Tournament last September.
And larger walleye have been caught on the Rainy River in non-tournament action.
Regardless, Ballan said he expects to remember Saturday’s events for “probably [his] whole life.”
“It was one of those days you wait for,” he remarked.
“It was kind of surreal. It was like ‘Wow, we actually did it,’” McBride said of the feeling he got when the duo hoisted the championship trophy. “It’s a pretty special feeling.
“I hope we can get it again sometime.”
LaBelle and Angus wound up second with 14.82 pounds overall, followed by Mike Vacura and Mike Svir (11.38), Shypit and Noga (11.10), and Janet Lambert and Jamie Hanke (10.42).
LaBelle and Angus earned the $600 prize for reeling in the biggest fish (4.10 pounds) on Day One.